Orkney – Skara Brae and other Neolithic sites

If you know anything about Orkney you might have heard about Skara Brae. But it’s just one of many Neolithic sites on the island. Skara Brae, a neolithic village, was inhabited from 3180 BC until 2500 BC. The houses had stone beds and cupboards and even a kind of sewer system. Okay, I read about the sewer system on Wikipedia. Not sure if it was mentioned in the small museum, can say for sure though that I didn’t see it outside. But the beds and cupboards even I recognized. Which is quite amazing really since usually old stones are just that.

looking inside one of the houses @Skara Brae

Despite this being a Unesco World Heritage Site we still toured it in about ten minutes. We spent longer in the single room museum. The weather was just miserable and honestly I am lacking in imagination to really get my inner history buff going. I enjoyed walking through Skaill House, which is included in the ticket price, a lot more. Built in 1620, later inhabitants added to it and made it into an impressive manor.

Skaill House @Orkney

The site of course was occupied way earlier, not only by the Neolithic settlers but later by Norsemen. Skaill meaning ‘Hall’ in old Norse. Of course, one wouldn’t come for the house if not for the Neolithic village. But the house is definitely worth a visit once you are here. Even if it is just to get warm.

Another Neolithic site is Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn. We explored it in a kind of afterthought and it’s definitely not worth going there. Especially if you don’t have children. The cairn is from 3.000BC and had been built by farmers as final resting place. There is a box right beside the entrance which holds a flashlight. The entrance is so low that you need to crawl inside. There is also no light except what you bring inside. Hence the flashlight and the hint that this is more for children.

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn @Orkney

A much better looking cairn was Unstan Chambered Cairn. Also about 5000 years old but you only need to stoop to get inside. Quite regal to walk almost upright compared to Cuween Hill Cairn. There was also light from above coming through a sunroof. The stones inside showed graffiti from the 19th century. Why people always have the urge to leave their mark?

Unstan Chambered Cairn @Orkney

graffiti from the 17th century inside Unstan Chambered Cairn @Orkney

Due to the pandemic the two most interesting cairns were unfortunately closed. Maeshowe Chambered Cairn is a lot bigger, can only be explored with a guide, and has some viking graffiti. We went to its visitors center though and got the information on the two cairns above. At least you can still get close to Maeshowe, if not inside.

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn @Orkney

Also closed was the Tomb of Eagles. This unique Neolithic site got its name from the eagle bones which lay next to human remains. The entrance was so low that you either had to crawl in or use a trolley and push overhead. We were sorry to learn that this place has closed down forever.

There are more Neolithic sites and cairns on the other Orkney islands like the Dwarfie Stane on Hoy. This one we saw only in passing. Since we were on a schedule, there was not a chance to walk up there as well. It does look impressive though even if you can’t see anything here. If you look closely you can see on the right lower side of the circle (which comes only from the camera) a ‘large’ white dot. That’s the Dwarfie Stane.

The Dwarfie Stane @Hoy

It’s really too bad we missed Maeshowe this time. I would have loved to get a guided tour through a cairn. You know my theory on old stones, so that is even more true when it comes to Neolithic sites. But maybe this is a good enough reason to come again. Yours, Pollybert

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